Late Harper Effort Topples Palace

Last updated : 15 March 2003 By Rob Cooper
By Oli Sumerling

The cliché of “a game of two halves” definitely applied here on a sunny day at the Madejski Stadium, as the Royals earned a deserved win over Crystal Palace, but it was much harder than it could have been. A scrappy first half was mirrored by the graveyard atmosphere in the Madejski, from the home fans at least.

Palace started well and should have been ahead after four minutes when Popovic blazed a volley over at the back post. A period of pressure from the visitors ended after fifteen minutes ended when their goalkeeper Cedric Berthelin went off with and injury, though why it took five minutes of confusion to complete the substitution for Kolinko is a mystery.

Despite this, Reading could have been at least three up by half time. The ball was in the back of the Palace net midway through the first period, only for play to be brought back for a foul on goalkeeper. Forster also should have scored but was denied in a one-on-one by Darren Powell’s incredulous recovery and tackle. A shot against the post in first-half stoppage time built up the frustration of the Royals players and fans alike.

The second half was a different story, with Alan Pardew’s men finding their rhythm and shape. A steady spell of pressure included a difficult header, which Nathan Tyson did well to execute under pressure from Butterfield, only to see his effort fly over the bar and earn himself a knock on the head in the process.

The pressure paid off in the end, and after a free kick was moved forward ten yards after Palace protests Steve Brown fired Watson’s back heel low past Kolinko.

All that effort was wiped out just ten minutes later, when Andy Johnson ran through a static Reading defence to slot past Hahnemann, and the home fans were silenced once again.

There then followed a relentless fifteen minutes from the Royals, Salako and Tyson spurning gilt-edged chances and Andy Hughes having a marvellous run and shot disallowed for a debateable handball.

The responsibility then fell to the reliable right foot of James Harper in the ninety-second minute, and he finished Chadwick’s low cross with aplomb and maturity that belied his twenty-two years to put Reading back in third-place. By this time the home crowd was in full voice, and a carnival atmosphere had emerged.